Up in the Air

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am


You know you hate it - that treadmill you hit after a long day's work might get you in perfect shape, but there's an imposing dread that comes with it; endless pain to go through before you get to that gain. But there is an alternative, one where there's little 'work' involved in your workout.

Aerial and anti-gravity exercises are the latest trends sweeping the fitness world, where theatrical fun and ethereal experiences are combined to create pleasurable and rewarding gym alternatives.

'Aerial fitness specifically targets people who are seeking alternative dance or fitness activity,' says Vee Lea, co-founder of Hong Kong's Aerial Arts Academy. 'It provides intense mental and creative stimulation, so much so that the participant forgets that they are working out.'

The idea is simple: combining yoga, Pilates and gymnastics, silks or cords are attached to the ceiling, with participants suspended midair performing slow, steady movements. The workout allows you to not only improve your stamina, strength, coordination and flexibility, but also offers inversion exercises that improves circulation to the head and provides anti-ageing effects.

'Aerials have a thrill and novelty factor that other workouts don't necessarily hold,' says Jennifer Ko, events coordinator at the New York-based Trapeze School. 'It's a new, challenging, and fun way to work out that differs from more traditional things like running or biking.'

The enormous popularity of aerial shows presented by companies such as Cirque du Soleil, alongside popular musicians using airborne theatrics in their performances, has created major international interest in the form, and inspired many fitness entrepreneurs to start their own academies.

But while those factors are the most obvious explanations for the modern trend, Lea says aerial fitness has a long and esteemed history, with its origins dating back to the earliest days of large-scale entertainment.

'Aerial fitness has its roots based in the circus culture,' says Lea. 'The history of circus dates back to the Greeks in the 14th century, and as a form of entertainment and industry, it has proven that it is here to stay.'

Aerial fitness might be nothing new, but the concept is certainly being improved, with modern-day incarnations extending beyond apparatus hanging from ceiling towards more scientific methods.

Anti-gravity workouts are related to aerials in that they provide an otherworldly alternative to your regular gym tricks. Leading the pack is Alter-G, a treadmill that uses air pressure to create an anti-gravity workout. You don a special pair of shorts, 'zip in' to the air chamber attached to the treadmill and the machine begins to 'unweight', allowing you to exercise at a percentage of your body weight.

'The defining feature of anti-gravity fitness is being set free of the gravitational forces of the Earth,' says Steve Basta, chief executive of Alter-G, established in 2005. ' It gives the exerciser the ability to reduce the impact on their body while still getting a good workout.'

Originally conceived by Dr Robert Whalen as effective exercise regimens for NASA's astronauts, the Alter-G was initially used exclusively among professional athletes and military personnel. But its value to fitness and rehabilitation professionals soon revealed itself, and while many of its users are those who are physically compromised, it's starting to see life among people with means eager for something different.

'It's gaining acceptance with those who are on the lookout for new fitness developments,' says Basta. 'These tend to be highly fit, very dedicated workout enthusiasts, generally higher-income women, who have the time and inclination to try something new.'

Many might assume aerial and anti-gravity training are fleeting trends in the fitness world - indulgences only appealing to the bored or the wealthy - but the increasing number of academies and apparatus dedicated to the forms say otherwise. And the benefits of both are obvious: the former offers a fun and flexible alternative to your average aerobics, while the latter's science-based methodology will surely see its influence continue into the future.

'We're going to see more innovation in the areas of anti-gravity and aerial fitness as a whole,' says Basta. 'The fitness industry is very creative, and people are always looking for ways to improve health.'


Aerial Arts Academy

Hosting a variety of distinctive fitness exercises, including aerial hoop, aerial silk, burlesque, ballet, pole dance and yoga, the Aerial Arts Academy is one of the most popular studios in Hong Kong dedicated to aerial fitness. Classes are available on everything from your standard hoop and silk exercises, to more stimulating choices as lap dancing and striptease. aerialartsacademy.com

Pole Divas

Pole Divas has for years tailored its classes to the working needs of those in the Central business district. Classes are mostly concentrated on pole and chair dancing, but a number focus on aerial silks and hoop, as well as standard flexing and toning. poledivas.hk

Pole Paradise Studio

Opened by a former instructor at Pole Divas, Pole Paradise Studio has kept fitness fans coming back with its wide array of classes and workshops.It offers a wide selection of pole, chair and prop dancing, as well as aerial silks, hoop, yoga and body conditioning. poleparadisestudio.com

Pure Yoga

As well as offering the most impressive array of yoga classes in Hong Kong, Pure often brings in a number of guest teachers and instructors well versed in energizing forms of exercise. It recently hosted an AcroYoga workshop that blended your standard bending with the intricacies of Thai massage and the movement of acrobatics. pure-yoga.com